Anyone remember Jolt Cola back in the 80’s? The young professionals and students’ drink that advertised itself with a slogan of marketing genius, “All the Sugar and Twice the Caffeine”, and was blatantly aimed at keeping you up all night, to work or to party? It seemed a radical beverage at the time and achieved a kind of cult status for its extravagant levels of caffeine but frankly, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Red Bull came along and created a whole new market over the next twenty years, and now every time, I go to the Loaf and Jug, I see cans of energy drinks with names like Aggro, Killer, Volt or Rampage. Even Red Bull seems relatively tame compared with some of these testosterone-pumping colas.
But what made me write this article was my spotting that Sturm Foods, a leading dry grocery manufacturer for both the retail and foodservice industries, is marketing a whole line of caffeine-infused foods. Like Morning Spark Natural Energy Instant Oatmeal- a nutritious way to jump-start your day! It is not only, the advertisement runs, an excellent source of fiber, but also energy. It is enhanced with caffeine- one serving containing about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. The packaging touts two natural sources of energy- caffeine- guarana and yerba mate. It’s way easier than eating your regular cereal with a cup of coffee.
Rudolph Foods, the world’s largest manufacturer of pork rinds, have put what they claim to be the first caffeine-infused munchie on the market- Engobi Cinnamon Surge Energy Bites. The packaging says “prepare to get wired, I mean really wired.” They look like pork rinds but in fact are some kind of sweet sugary puffs. There is also caffeinated gum, ice cream, mints, chocolates, mineral vitamin water, jelly beans and sunflower seeds available on the market, all with zippy fun graphics and packaging aimed squarely at the young consumer market. Most strange perhaps is a
beef jerky which is packed with caffeine, one serving containing the equivalent of two strong espressos- Perky Jerky!
Next I came across Shower Shock soap, the world’s first caffeinated soap which is advertised with “Have smelly co-workers that sleep in too much? Give them the gift of Shower Shock- mornings have never been so invigorating.” And no, you don’t have to eat the stuff- apparently caffeine may be absorbed through the skin, up to the equivalent of two strong cups of coffee in a thorough lathering. Shower Shock is definitely the ultimate clean buzz!
Obviously the sneaky stimulant can pop up in unexpected places or anywhere these days. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list caffeine content on nutrition labels, it’s often hard to tell whether a product contains the stimulant, and how much. But it is in many products that we all consume and which we take for granted in our lives. From tea to coffee to soft drinks, our diet is er- infused with caffeine. A 12-ounce container of Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Tab, Mr. Pibb, Mountain Dew and many other soft drinks contains as much caffeine as a cup of tea. It’s as if the whole world runs on caffeine in some form or other.
For caffeine is the mostly widely consumed drug in America and throughout the world- an estimated 80% of the population take a caffeine-containing substance daily. They take it in coffee, in tea, in chocolate, in diet products, in headache medicines, soft drinks and foods. They take it orally or through the skin, in solid or liquid form and at all times of the day. Asia runs on a mysterious “health” drink called Lipovitan which is sold in every store and is as prevalent as its counterpart, Coke, in this country. It purports to be a vitamin drink but contains massive amounts of caffeine, of yerba mate and of guarana, as do most vitamin drinks everywhere. And the energy boosting drug, caffeine, is completely legal for all ages.
Probably the guy who started it all off was an American pharmacist called John Pemberton who, in 1886, created a drink flavored by caffeine-containing kola nuts and spiced up with cocaine from the coca plant of Peru and Bolivia. He called it Coca-Cola but had to remove the cocaine before the end of the century- to replace it with even more caffeine. And so the energy drink was introduced to the world. We’d been into it for much longer though: caffeine, a natural stimulant, is a biochemical produced exclusively in the leaves, nuts and fruit of some sixty plants including the coffee bean, tea leaves and cocoa nuts. And coffee, tea and chocolate have been around for centuries. The reason that it is so prevalent in the plant world is that caffeine acts as a natural pesticide, paralyzing and killing insects on plants.
In humans, caffeine enhances awareness, keeps us awake, causes our heart rate to rise and our muscles to tense up. It generally gives us a good feeling and is useful if we are tired and have work to complete in a hurry. Up to two cups of coffee a day doesn’t affect you too strongly: caffeine is easily absorbed by your stomach lining and you feel the effect of caffeine within an hour of drinking it. After which, its effect reduces, depending upon how much you’ve had. Studies have proven that caffeine affects your cardiovascular and nervous system and increases the general metabolism of your body.
Drinking caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical secreted by the nervous system to give the body a calming effect. At the same time you get a shot of adrenaline giving you the ‘fight or flight’ feeling. The result is that your heart rate rapidly increases, your muscles tighten and extra glucose is released in your body for energy; even your blood pressure increases. This is commonly known as the ‘caffeine buzz’.
But a lot of coffee can have its drawbacks. Too much caffeine can result in caffeine intoxication, which is characterized by
nervousness, excitement, insomnia, cold hands and feet, intestinal complaints, and sometimes even hallucinations. Heavy caffeine users can’t get deep sleep. Caffeine is addictive as it increases the production of Dopamine in your brain, a neural transmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, giving you a feeling of contentment and happiness.
Oh yes, I didn’t mention the bad bit yet. Caffeine is definitely addictive as regular coffee drinkers who can’t do without their dose of caffeine everyday will readily attest. The most common side effects if you suddenly stop taking caffeine in some form or other, are a very bad headache, anxiety, depression, and nervousness.- i.e. withdrawal symptoms. If you suddenly quit caffeine it can lead to an abrupt drop of blood pressure since the body gets very sensitive to adenosine which causes blood to accumulate in the head, leading to a very bad headache. But the truth is that consumed in moderation, caffeine will pass through the system quickly and will most probably not be harmful- as can be claimed by most psychoactive drugs, legal or otherwise. However, long term use of caffeine will have side effects; it can lead to increased blood sugar levels which in turn can exacerbate or lead to diabetes. When purified, caffeine is an intensely bitter powder and will have a strongly acidic effect on the body. It can obviously lead to indigestion, ulcers or diarrhea- but many believe that a constant overly acidic pH in the human body leads to cancers of different kinds and that perhaps the epidemic of cancers in our modern society is in part due to caffeine consumption.
As you can see, caffeine can have a definite negative effect on our bodies so it is best to ingest this powerful substance minimally. In today’s fast-moving society, when many people are overworked, on the run and sleep-deprived, more people are using caffeine as an energy crutch than ever before, experts say. That’s not all bad; in fact, ingesting 250 milligrams of caffeine per day—that’s two to three cups of coffee—wakes up the brain, improves concentration,
relieves stress, and may also help you live longer. It’s actually my drug of choice- but I don’t ingest it recreationally. Caffeine dilates constricted blood vessels and I use it for my chronic migraine headaches to relieve pain.
Perhaps the drug brings mixed blessings to our society; it helps us get rolling when the poor old tired horse of the body feels like it has had enough but it has cursed us with Starbucks coffee houses and coffee culture- anyone for a tall, skinny, decaff, latte supreme? It is the uninvited guest and the silent ghost at the feast, the fuel that barrels us through life, to work and back, and then out again at night- which works as long as there is no tomorrow. At eighteen, a stiff shot of Crank, the wonder energy elixir, can keep you up on the dance floor all night; at sixty eight it can cause the dark hole in your stomach that stops you sliding off into sleep. Why are all good things two-sided, why is there so often a price to be paid- and why is it so hard for many of us to take a middle path of moderation? Odds are that whether you know it- or like it- or not, you’re doing caffeine in one form or another, just like your grandmother and your neighbor’s small son next door. Arguably, not love but caffeine makes the world go round. I can close my mind to the paranoid possibility that a perfect, cheap, productivity-enhancing drug is being used to keep us all running on the treadmill of modern life- but I do think that it’s maybe it’s time to get off this rocket and to look for a slower ride.
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